Steelers WR Donte Moncrief: ‘Catch one ball, then everything goes away’
Before Wednesday’s practice at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Donte Moncrief was wearing one of the sweatshirts the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers corps had made after the death of position coach Darryl Drake.
The sweatshirts read, “Shut out the noise,” which was Drake’s motto for the group this season. After being benched Sunday following his fifth drop in his first two games as a Steelers receiver, Moncrief is hearing plenty of the “noise.” But it’s not so much the taunts from fans and outsiders that are spooking Moncrief.
It’s the voices in his own head.
“It’s just at the point where you’re trying to put too much pressure on yourself and over-thinking the job instead of going out there having fun like you have been doing for six years,” Moncrief said. “When you go out there and try to be perfect, it just puts more pressure on yourself and puts a lot on you mentally. When you mess up out there, and you’re just not out there having fun, it’s hard.”
It’s been hard for Moncrief so far, six months after signing a two-year, $9 million contract with the Steelers to be their No. 2 receiver after the offseason trade of Antonio Brown. Moncrief was a training-camp practice standout when healthy, showing he could be the Robin to JuJu Smith-Schuster’s Batman.
But Moncrief has had three catches for 7 yards with five drops on 11 targets through his first two games. The lone pass thrown to him Sunday against Seattle deflected off his fingers and was intercepted. Moncrief did not play after that.
A seven-year NFL veteran, Moncrief said his problem is entirely mental.
“It’s coming down to putting too much pressure on myself,” Moncrief said, denying a training-camp finger injury is still affecting his hands, “trying to be 100% perfect on every little thing instead of going out there having fun and having fun with the guys who I have been doing it with since I got here, even since OTAs and training camp. Instead of doing it, I have been putting pressure on myself, trying to do stuff that I normally can do.”
Moncrief seems resigned that his spot among the hierarchy of the Steelers receivers’ pecking order could be in jeopardy. But he also is optimistic he can turn his season around.
Donte Moncrief played 18 snaps in the @Steelers’ 28-26 loss Sunday to #Seattle. He didn’t see the field after his drop led to an interception on the #Steelers’ first series of the second half. It was his only target of the game.https://t.co/LMNHCF4Tlb
— Tribune-ReviewSports (@TribSports) September 17, 2019
“Just catch one ball, and then everything goes away,” he said. “Go out there make plays and start having fun like you have been doing in this game for so long. Stop over-thinking and stop putting so much pressure on yourself.”
The gremlins are so much in Moncrief’s head that he said he has cut off seeking or taking advice from others, particularly NFL receivers who have gone through similar “yips” regarding what they have excelled at their whole life: catching a football.
“It comes down to you, (so) it hurts you, the advice,” Moncrief said. “So then you try to go through it yourself and block everything out. Talking to somebody makes it worse.”
One person who it sounds as if Moncrief would have welcomed talking to about his struggles is Drake, who died Aug. 11 in his Saint Vincent dormitory.
“I know Coach Drake would tell me right now, ‘Just get back to being yourself, and stop trying to be perfect and make plays and have fun. At the end of the day, stop putting so much pressure on yourself,’ ” Moncrief said.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .